Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

On Singing Schubert's "Ave Maria"



Another musical post! This is a pretty odd lead-up to my bloggiversary, but it seems to be where this week keeps pointing. I had some interesting news the other night which I cannot post, alas. Kresta on EWTN radio keeps broadcasting John Michael Talbot, or whatever his name is. So now this.

I meant to post about this on Monday night, since the cantor at the evening Mass for the Feast of the Assumption sang the "Ave Maria" sometime during the proceedings. But today I was listening to Fr. Roderick Vonhoegen's wonderful Catholic Insider podcasts. His August 15th podcast has a wonderful live rendition by a Canadian pilgrim to World Youth Day, about three minutes in; and that reminded me.

If you are a singer and especially if you're female, you will probably someday be asked to sing Schubert's setting of the "Ave Maria", and if you are Catholic you'll be asked to do it for weddings and funerals and all sorts of Marian occasions. So if you don't know it, you probably should learn it. It's not really all that hard to memorize. You also get double the use out of it, because then you'll also know the Latin words for praying the Hail Mary; and that might just come in handy.

My basic recommendation for learning it to find a really good recording and a copy of the words, and listen to it about five zillion times. Then sing it reallllly slooooowly about five zillion times. Once you're note-perfect on it, then you can speed it up. Sing it at faster speeds note-perfect, until you can sing it note-perfect at the actual speed every time.

Next, practice it while doing something that needs a lot of breath, like walking or jogging or lifting weights. *g*

See, the "Ave Maria" needs a lot of breath for those long held-out phrases. It doesn't seem like it's too hard when you're singing it all by yourself, because you're relaxed and using your air efficiently. (Not to mention using good singing technique, which means you're not letting out much air.) But when you're doing it for a close relative's wedding, and every relative you have is in the building listening only to you, and you suspect the bride is freaking over whether everything will be perfect, and you really want it to be perfect, too... well, you might just have a tad bit of stress hurting your technique, and thus need that practice in singing without air. Especially if the ushers take their time bringing the mothers up the aisle, and you're swinging into your third time through the whole dang song!!!

(Not that I have any personal experience in singing the "Ave Maria" three times in a row. Oh, no. I'm pretty sure it was four.) *g*

The really important thing is to try not to push. Not your voice, not the words, not the song. The song is supposed to sound humble, like someone praying, but also glorious, like praying. It's supposed to suggest, and with grace even open the way to, a religious experience for both musicians and hearers. If you are truly singing while knowing you stand in the presence of God, and are speaking to your friend, mother, and prayer warrior Mary, then you should sound like it. Don't be bombastic or forceful. Just let the song float on out, and do your best to trust both Schubert and your voice. It's honestly much easier if you just let go.

(After the aforesaid zillion times of practice, of course.)

So yes, if you know the song really well, you'll realize that that Canadian pilgrim did cut some of her phrases a bit short sometimes, and maybe didn't do it perfectly as written. But even if you noticed, did you care? No. Of course not. You can't hear her heaving for breath, which is probably the most common problem. But even if she'd done that, if the vocal quality, the words, the melody, and the prayerfulness are all there -- and they are -- then nothing else really matters.

(Though it's much easier to get people to pray if you're not panting, so you should practice the song a zillion times.)

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